Stop, Look, Listen and Live

Stop, Look, Listen and Live

Here’s a little experiment regarding railroad crossing safety. Take a can of soda, place it on the ground in front of the tire of your car. But first, let’s back up a bit and get all the parameters of this experiment set… we don’t want to have our results skewed by having the wrong data input. We’re using a 12oz. can, full and unopened.  The vehicle is a standard full-sized sedan, a Fusion, Camry, Malibu, that class of vehicle. Make sure bystanders are back several yards, mostly to avoid spray. Now, run over the can. Note the effect on the can… and the minimal effect on the car. The difference in mass between the soda can and your car is roughly the same as the mass difference between your car and a loaded freight train. To be precise, we would need to specify the number of cars in the train consist, their weight, the number and type of power units in the consist… but the result is still going to be the same. Even a single locomotive outweighs your car by a hundred times.

Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks. Since 1981, grade crossing (the technical term for an intersection of a public road and a railroad track) collisions have decreased each year, but 2015 still saw over 2000 collisions. In these, there were 244 fatalities. These incidents are preventable! All grade crossings are required to be marked with at least a crossbuck. The federal Highway Administration reports that nationwide, just under 25% of grade crossings are controlled by gates, with a total of 45% having at least some form of active marking. These statistics are 2004, and the number of gated crossings has climbed to around 35% today. Even so, BNSF Railroad’s 2014 Grade Crossing Safety report showed 52% of grade crossing collisions occurring at crossings with active warning devices! Crossings in higher traffic areas are more likely to have gates, many with flashing lights in addition to the gate. The onus is on the driver of the vehicle to be aware of the warning markings and to heed them.
“… but, don’t I have the Right of Way??” It is important to remember, the train can’t swerve to avoid a collision. The train can’t stop, either, at least not in time. Return for a moment to the soda can we squashed earlier. If you approach the can at 55mph in your car, you could stop in time if you applied your brakes about 150 feet away. Using the venerable football field analogy, say you’re “driving” for a touchdown at 55mph. To stop short of the can on the opponent’s goal line, you’d have to hit the binders at the 50 yard line. If an average freight train, driving (hauling?) for that same touchdown, applied emergency braking, it would take eighteen football fields to stop… that’s plowing right down the field, through the next field, through the whole regular season, AND the playoffs and into the Super Bowl… before it could stop.
To be safe, be aware. Aware of where the grade crossings are. Aware of the type of markings which denote grade crossings. Aware of your responsibility to yourself and to your passengers.

Do not EVER drive around a gated crossing.

Do not EVER cross a grade crossing when a traffic control signal is active.

Stop, look and listen at grade crossings without active traffic control signals.

The train will pass in a few minutes and you’ll be on your way, safely!
Thank you for joining us, and keep the rails shiny!

For more information, see:
Union Pacific grade crossing safety messages.

Where, oh where are the grade crossings on my route??


Big Iron
adjective: big; comparative adjective: bigger; superlative adjective: biggest
1. of considerable size, extent, or intensity….
Marty Robbins’ 1959 classic hit “Big Iron” concerned a pistol… most likely Mr. Colt’s “Peacemaker” Single Action Army M1873. At 2lb., 5oz., it was “big iron” indeed. The locomotives known as “Big Boys” are… bigger. Often called the “largest and heaviest steam locomotives ever built”, the Union Pacific’s 4000-class 4-8-8-4 articulated locos were certainly among the biggest, regardless of how you measure it. While hauling freight over the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah, in the late 1930s, Union Pacific saw a need for more traction. To climb the 1.14% grade east of Ogden, helper engines needed to be added to the consist. After climbing the grade, they were extraneous and had to be removed and repurposed to more profitable effort. The U.P. design team worked with the American Locomotive Company, putting the existing Challenger locomotive on a muscle building program.. In the gym, the loco got a larger firebox, longer boiler and 33% more driving wheels. The result was a 1,250,000lb, 130+ foot behemoth designed to pull 3600 tons at 80mph. The corporate name for the series was “Wasatch”, however very early in the project an unknown worker chalked the appellation “BIG BOY” on the beast. Who could argue?


Play Me a Train Song
The real-life whistle of the Pan American Flyer was literally the signature sound of the Grand Ole Opry in the mid-1930s. WSM radio, Nashville took advantage of its location next to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad tracks. A radio station engineer placed a microphone by the window, and every day when the train known as “the Pan” blew its whistle approaching the station, the sound would go out over WSM….

Live at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry, Emmylou Harris sings “Smoke Along the Track”

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